Applying to Law School
How Law Schools Determine Whom to Admit
Nationally, there are more applicants than spaces available in first-year classes. Schools rely heavily on selection criteria that bear on expected performance in law school and can be applied objectively to all candidates. Law schools consider a variety of factors in admitting their students. The two factors that all candidates present—prior academic performance and the LSAT score—are fundamental to the admission process (PDF).
The most difficult admission decisions are those regarding candidates who are neither so well qualified nor so unsatisfactory as to present a clear-cut case for acceptance or denial. These applicants constitute the majority of the applicant pool at many law schools. However, if you assess your credentials accurately, your likelihood of admission to an ABA-accredited law school is strong.
- Undergraduate grade-point average
- LSAT score
- Undergraduate course of study
- Graduate work, if any
- College attended
- Improvement in grades and grade distribution
- College curricular and extracurricular activities
- Ethnic/racial background
- Individual character and personality
- Letters of recommendation/evaluations
- Writing skills
- Personal statement or essay
- Work experience or other postundergraduate experiences
- Community activities
- Motivation to study and reasons for deciding to study law
- State of residency
- Obstacles that have been overcome
- Past accomplishments and leadership
- Anything else that stands out in an application
- Conditional admission programs (PDF)
The Candidate Referral Service (CRS) is a free service that makes information about law school candidates available to law schools. Law schools may recruit potential applicants on the basis of specific characteristics; for example, LSAT score, undergraduate grade-point average (UGPA), age, citizenship, race or ethnicity, and geographic background. If you establish an LSAC.org account for any purpose, you may authorize release of your credentials to law schools participating in the CRS. LSAC recommends that you authorize release. CRS is an opportunity to be found by law schools you might not otherwise have considered.
Remember that law schools require complete files before making their decisions. A law school will consider your file complete when it has received your application, Credential Assembly Service (CAS) law school report (or LSAT law school report if the law school does not require the Credential Assembly Service), letters of recommendation or evaluations (if required), personal statement, any requirements unique to the particular school, and application fee.
Many law schools operate what is known as a rolling admission process: The school evaluates applications and informs candidates of admission decisions on a continuous basis over several months, usually beginning in late fall and extending to midsummer for waiting-list admissions.
Even if you have not yet taken the LSAT, it might be helpful to submit your application early so that your Credential Assembly Service (CAS) file can be sent to law schools as soon as your test score is available. The earlier you apply, the more places the school is likely to have available. Most schools try to make comparable decisions throughout the admission season, even those that practice rolling admission. Still, it is disadvantageous to be one of the last applicants to complete a file. Furthermore, the more decisions you receive from law schools early in the process, the better able you will be to make your own decisions, such as whether to apply to more law schools or whether to accept a particular school’s offer.
In fall 2012, 53 percent of all applicants applied to five or fewer law schools. You should be sure to place your applications at schools representing a range of admission standards. Even if you have top qualifications, you should apply to at least one safety school where you are almost certain of being admitted. This is your insurance policy. If you apply to a safety school in November, and are accepted in January or February, you may be disappointed but not panicked if you are later denied admission by your top choices.
Applicants whose qualifications more than fulfill the school’s admission standards are usually accepted by an admission committee during the first round of decisions. Candidates whose credentials fall below the school’s standards are usually denied admission.
Many applications are not decided upon immediately. They are usually reviewed by a committee that bases its admission decision on many facets of each application. The length of time it takes the committee to review an application varies; consult the individual law schools to which you apply.
If you have strong qualifications, but you do not quite match the competition of those currently being admitted at a particular law school, you may be placed on a waiting list for possible admission at a later date. The law school will send you a letter notifying you of its final decision as early as April or as late as July.
Many schools rank students who are on the waiting list. Some law schools will tell you your rank. If a law school doesn’t rank its waiting list, you might ask the admission office how many students have been placed on the waiting list.
Many law schools use seat deposits to help keep track of their new classes. For example, a typical fee might be $200, which is credited to your first-term tuition if you actually register at the school; if you don’t register, the deposit may be forfeited or partially returned. A school may require a larger deposit around July 1, which is also credited to tuition. If you decline the offer of admission after you’ve paid your deposit, a portion of the money may be refunded, depending on the date you actually decline the offer. At some schools, you may not be refunded any of the deposit.
The official position of the Law School Admission Council is:
Except under binding early decision plans, or for academic terms beginning in the spring or summer, no law school should require an enrollment commitment of any kind, to an offer of admission or scholarship prior to April 1. Admitted applicants who have submitted a timely financial aid application should not be required to commit to enroll by having to make a nonrefundable financial commitment until notified of financial aid awards that are within the control of the law school.
Each year, LSAC provides participating law schools with periodic reports detailing the number of applicants who have submitted seat deposits or commitments at other participating schools, along with identification of those other schools. Beginning May 15 each year, these reports now also include the names and LSAC account numbers for all candidates who have deposits/commitments at multiple participating schools.
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